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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The bioeconomy at work: petroleum-free tires in the making

On the one hand, the 'bioeconomy' is an economy where petro-chemical products are substituted and replaced by biobased alternatives, and on the other hand, an economy where entirely new products and biobased systems are developed that are sustainable, durable, recycleable and efficient.

Contrary to common perceptions, the substitution logic requires just as much innovation as the development of new products and applications. An interesting and important example of this is the creation of petroleum-free tires, which have raised a lot of interest given high oil prices.

But a 100%, petroleum-free tire? Sounds like a fantasy, doesn’t it? Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. doesn’t think so. At the International Tire Exhibition and Conference (ITEC) held in Akron, Ohio, Sumitomo’s Mamoru Uchida presented an overview of how his company has reduced the content of oil in a tire by 46% in its Dunlop 'ENASAVE ES801', the 'next generation environmentally friendly tire.' And it’s a tire in production, not just a concept tire.

Tires are made from around 100 different kinds of material. Of this number, the four main petroleum materials are synthetic rubber, carbon black as a filler, mineral oil and synthetic fiber for the casing. The Dunlop 'ENASAVE ES801' tire reduces the use of synthetic rubber by increasing natural rubber - a tropical commodity farmed by millions of smallholders in the developing world -, and utilizes bio-materials for filler, oil and casing. This has successfully raised the proportion of non-petroleum materials from 44% for conventional tires, to 70% for the 'ENASAVE ES801'. The increased use of these materials has also lowered rolling resistance by 30%, contributing to improved fuel economy.

This is quite some important news, showing that substitution and innovation will make 'Peak Oil' less dramatic than some portray it to be. Many in the so-called 'Peak Oil community' have written that global transport might collapse not only because fuel prices will spiral out of control, but simply because oil-based synthetic rubber tires would be too expensive to manufacture. The substitution logic - demonstrated nicely by the development of the petroleum-free tire - tells us that things will not come this far. Just as petroleum fuels will be replaced by biofuels, SBR tires will find alternatives in high-tech biobased tires.

Let's listen to Mamoru Uchida's speech entitled "Development of the Petroleum-Free Tire". Some excerpts:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

A modern tire has to perform the following fundamental functions:

* to support the vehicle load
* to absorb shocks from the road surface
* to transmit traction and braking forces to the road surface
* to change and maintain direction of travel

To realize these functions, around 100 kinds of material are used in a tire. These materials were improved in their performance with the progress of vehicle technology starting from the Model-T Ford, the development of expressway service, the development of petrochemistry and a certain number of inventions regarding tire technology such as the pneumatic tire and subsequently the radial tire.

Today, petroleum materials account for over 50% of the materials by weight which are used in a tire.

Petroleum materials are taken into confidence for tire technology due to their special characteristics. Therefore, tire performance has been able to follow the progress of vehicle technology. On the other hand, there is an anticipation that oil supplies will dry up and also the considerable consumption of oil is responsible for many environmental issues.

Product concept: ENASAVE ES801
We considered the following two approaches to make our contribution to this environmental issue. One is to increase the usage of petroleum-free materials and the other is to reduce a tire’s rolling resistance for reduced fuel consumption.

1. Substitution of materials. The usage of material for the standard and the petroleum-free tire ENASAVE ES801 is as follows. The weight ratio of petroleum-free material is raised from 44% to 70% by replacing synthetic rubber with natural rubber, carbon black with silica, mineral oil with vegetable oil and synthetic fiber with vegetable fiber.

The substitution of rubber is important to the weight ratio of petroleum materials and tire performance. When the substitution of rubber is made at the tread compound, then the tire performance is degraded with respect to grip.

Natural rubber has the characteristics that its grip performance is inferior to that of synthetic rubber SBR when applied in a tread compound. Natural rubber has a longer molecular chain but compact side chain compared with synthetic rubber SBR; therefore, natural rubber shows better rolling resistance but less grip performance compared with synthetic rubber SBR. Since grip performance, especially wet grip is important for safety… we applied a modified natural rubber to improve grip performance.

2. Modified natural rubber tread compound. An epoxidized natural rubber, which is one of the modified natural rubbers, shows a change of the loss tangent curve and is close to that of synthetic rubber SBR. With the combination of epoxidized natural rubber, silica and vegetable oil, we are able to produce a tread compound which is competitive to a synthetic rubber tread compound in grip performance.

3. Tire design. The new concept tread pattern design is effective in the reduction of rolling resistance, with good wet grip, dry handling and noise reduction on ENASAVE ES801.

Compared with the standard tire, ENASAVE ES801 can achieve a 30% reduction of rolling resistance and better performance in all other criteria.

The first pneumatic tire made in Japan was launched in 1913. In this tire, the tread compound was composed of natural rubber and magnesium carbonate together with other materials that were considered as petroleum-free materials.

We continue to develop the petroleum-free tire aiming at this first pneumatic tire made in Japan as the target of petroleum-free materials ratio but with the excellent tire performance properties required from a modern day product.


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